Presented on Wednesday, May 30, 2018 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus.
There is no shortage of commentary on Twain's penchant for talk, how he transliterated and employed it. he perfected the mock oral narrative, precisely rendered of frontier and river vernacular, created the stunning narrative method of Huck Finn's voice, and crafted countless, repeatable maxims (ironically, one being: "I talk until I have my audience cowed"). Yet, silence permeates the writings of Mark Twain -- for example, there are over 150 references to silence in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn alone! Examining its functions its an overlooked, yet integral, aspect of his writing for silence mediates and influences the discourse of his fictive and personal worlds. Rhetorical theorist Cheryl Glenn argues, "silence - the unspoken - is a rhetorical art that can be powerful as the spoken or written word." Twain too understood that power: "The unspoken word is capital. We can invest it or we can squander it." Indeed, Twain crafted the full measure of the art on the page throughout his writing life. This talk examines representative (and powerful) rhetorical uses of silence in the arc of Twain's fictive writing.
Ben Click is a professor of English at St. Mary's College of Maryland, director of the Writing & Speaking Center, director of the Twain Lecture Series on American Humor Culture, and the associate editor of the Mark Twain Annual. With Larry Howe and Jim Caron, he published Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon in Critical Contexts. He has given numerous lectures and scholarly papers on Mark Twain, published articles and book chapters on the teaching of writing and writing assessment. he is also working on a book that examines humor as a rhetorical strategy in environmental writing, a genre that is sometimes seen as taking itself too seriously.